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I've had the incredibly exciting experience of creating stories and characters with whom countless of millions of you in the audience have become involved. Characters you've welcomed into your home each day...Stories of families and relationships, romance and conflict, with people you love to love or love to hate, characters who have captivated you for whatever reason.
-Bill Bell in his Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech at the 1992 Daytime Emmy Awards in New York City
One day in the late 1980s, one of Bill Bell's young stars was having a particularly bad time taping scenes for a front-burner, emotion-packed storyline on The Young and the Restless.
In a temporary burst of frustration, the actor slammed his script down on the studio floor at CBS Television City in Hollywood proclaiming, "I could type better s- with my d-."
The thespian was unaware that Bill, the show's creator, head writer, and senior executive producer, was working with his writers in his office two floors above and had witnessed the outburst on an in-house monitor.
Producers and head writers at other shows have fired actors on the spot for far less egregious acts. Bill was certainly not a man to be trifled with, but he was known for being able to see the bigger picture. He always made his decisions based on what was best for his show, not his ego. Knowing that it wouldn't serve his story or his audience well if he recast or killed off this pivotal player (who remains a big fan favorite and was doing an otherwise admirable job in bringing Bill's stories to life), Bill refrained from pink-slipping the star.
Still, he couldn't let the moment pass without sending his foul-mouthed actor a pointed message. Bill called down to the control booth and left word for the agitated player: "Tell him I have an IBM Selectric typewriter. He can come up anytime and give it a try."
Then it was back to work for everyone. The actor regained his composure and completed his scenes. Bill went back to his meeting and turned out another episode of daily drama. He'd been doing that for more than thirty-five years, having studied under Irna Phillips, who has been called the Queen of Soaps.
Irna was a broadcasting pioneer who created several radio dramas that Bill listened to as a child while growing up in Elmwood Park, Illinois. Later, she successfully ushered The Guiding Light into the television era. Then she went on to create or cocreate As the World Turns, Another World, and Days of our Lives. Irna taught Bill certain principles about soap operas that he adhered to for his entire career.
Bill created diverse and dynamic characters, yet audiences found these larger-than-life personas relatable. He believed in the sanctity of never revealing what was going to happen until viewers saw it on the air. If fans wanted to learn a baby's paternity, see if the ailing heroine lived or died, or find out whether or not the star-crossed lovers' wedding was finally going to happen, they had to tune in both today and tomorrow. And they couldn't wait until tomorrow.
Bill's stories were actor-proof. He could cast classically trained thespians or inexperienced newcomers, and viewers would embrace his characters with equal devotion. Acting technique would come in time. Bill's story, however, was in place from day one.
Bill wrote many fictional romances and love stories. Some, like Victor and Nikki on Y&R or Ridge and Brooke on B&B, were epic, but they all paled in comparison to his real-life marriage of more than fifty years with Lee Phillip.
Lee, a pioneer in the days of live TV in Chicago and host of The Lee Phillip Show, met Bill at her television studio. They shared an elevator ride one morning, and the rest was history. They fell in love, worked hard, and cocreated two soap operas (The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful) and three children: William (Bill), Bradley, and Lauralee. All three have successfully followed their parents in the world of soap operas, each in a different role. Bill is president of the family's production and distribution companies. Bradley serves as head writer and executive producer of B&B. Lauralee, taking a cue from her mother's on-camera career, acted on Y&R as model-turned-lawyer Cricket Blair Williams, a role she continues to reprise.
The Bells moved to Los Angeles in 1986, setting up shop at CBS Television City in Hollywood and a residence in Beverly Hills. For Lee, going west meant bidding adieu to her career in front of the camera in the Windy City. She made the move to a new city and a new career, as coexecutive producer of B&B, the same way she does everything else-with quiet grace.
Scores of people (actors, writers, crew members) were able to buy homes and send their children to college thanks to the consistent work that Bill's passion for storytelling provided.
Like other great leaders, Bill hired smart people to work with him. He let them do what they did best while he orchestrated the lives, loves, machinations, and maladies of his characters.
His career, like the destinies of those characters, unfolded slowly and matured over time. Bill went from being Irna's student to becoming the head writer of Days of our Lives in 1966, saving it from cancellation. In 1973, he and Lee launched Y&R, which revolutionized the serial form. In 1987, they brought B&B to life so their children could experience what it was like to launch a new series and be fully involved in a family business.
Long before Donahue and Oprah premiered, Lee tackled many social issues on her Chicago-based talk show, and she later advised Bill on how best to incorporate them into his storylines. Ironically, he never addressed on air the one (Alzheimer's) that struck closest to home, though his son Bradley would do so five years after Bill's untimely death.
Over his five-decade career in dramatic serials, Bill wrote thousands and thousands of hours of compelling story.
This is his.